Thursday, January 10, 2013

Episode 3: Animal Symbology in Christian Art

What do all of those animals in Christian art represent?
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Here is one version of Leonardo's Madonna with a Cat

Here is a second one.
Here is Federico Barocci's Madonna of the Cat. Note that John the Baptist holds a goldfinch. The goldfinch eats thorns and represents the passion, and its association with the crown of thorns.
In Rembrandt's print Madonna and Child with Cat notice that Mary is trampling a serpent beneath he feet. Mary represents the new Eve as Jesus represents the new Adam.
My new favorite Albrecht Dürer print is The Monstrous Pig of Landser. Monstrous indeed.
Dürer also made a print called Prodigal Son Among the Pigs. The pig is often associated with the parable.
Dürer has his main figure in a similar pose in his Saint Eustache.  Saint Eustache is the patron saint of hunters and is often represented praying to a deer. The deer usually has a crucifix between its antlers, as it does here. In this print the foreshortening a bit awkward. At first glance it looks like Eustanche is praying to his horse.
 Saint Anthony vanquished the Pig Demon of Sensuality. The pig is often associated with Saint Anthony.

Dail painted his famous Temptation of Saint Anthony without including a pig.
Matthias Grünewald's Temptation of St. Anthony is awesome, though pigless.
Pieter Huys's Temptation of Saint Anthony has a lot going on but there is no pig to be found.
Joos van Craesbeck's Saint Anthony has a pig, and an odd one at that. This theme really allowed these painters, particularly those of the Northern Renaissance, to go to town with the most crazy imagery their ample imaginations could come up with.

The basilisk is half chicken and half serpent. According to legend it could kill you just by looking at you and is associated with the Devil or the Antichrist. Psalm 91:13 reads, "Thou shalt walk upon the asp and the basilisk: and thou shalt trample under foot the lion and the dragon."Most English and Protestant translations of the verse substitute basilisk for adder of cobra. 

Here is a Dürer print of a basilisk.
Gentile da Fabriano's Adoration of the Magi has both a leopard and an ape. Both of these animals represent evil, sin, and the need for Christ. Flies and other ominous symbols are often featured in Adoration scenes.

The scallop shell represents pilgrimage and is particularly associated Santiago de Compostela in Spain. In this photo the Pope wears his pilgrim's cloak adorned with the scallop shell.
Symbolism in Christian art is an enormous subject. In this podcast I only dealt with animals. 

Much of my information came from George Ferguson's marvelous book Sign and Symbols in Christian Art. Sections are available online at google books. It is also available at Amazon.

Corrections: I misspoke and said Saint Veronica has eyeballs on a dish. That is Saint Lucy.
I also said that there was a basilisk in the King James Bible in Psalm 91:13. King James reads adder. The Douay-Rheims Bible has the basilisk. The Douay-Rheims is the English translation of the Latin Vulgate.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Episode 2: Sacred Geometry

How artists have dealt with the ideas behind the philosophy of math and the golden rectangle.
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The golden ratio is imagined to be found in nature as well as a number of art objects. This episode of Post-Modern Times looks at the actual correlation between aesthetic preferences and the formula. There have been a number of physiological studies that have tried to understand the why and even if people are attracted to certain ratios.
Though many artist and architects have based their compositions on the the golden ratio, or phi, particularly the golden rectangle, its use seems to have been exaggerated. The same can be said for the relationship between natural objects, such as the Nautilus Shell and the ratio.
Here is an example of the golden ratio being applied to the facade of the Parthenon. Do you think this is a bit of a stretch?
Here it is rather randomly superimposed on the Mona Lisa:
There is no doubt Jay Hambidge used the golden ratio in his work:
Hambidge's book, The Elements of Dynamic Symmetry is a classic work dealing with the subject of mathematical composition.

Other artists that undoubtedly used the ratio include  Le Corbussier, Mondrian, Dali, and many Renaissance painters and architects.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Episode 1: Marcel Duchamp and the End of Beauty

How Duchamp reinvented what we now call art.
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Marcel Duchamp can be given much of the credit or blame for how the current art situation came to be. His contributions were critical in the development of almost all later are movements

Duchamp painted Landscape at Blainville when he was only 15.

Here is an early magazine illustration by Duchamp.

 Unlike so many of his followers, Duchamp could actually draw. This early sketch of his brother, Jacques Villon, shows tremendous skill and manages to display motion that will be fundamental in the artist's later masterpieces. 

Duchamp's Portrait of Chauvel from 1910 show a clear influence of Fauvism.

 Sad Young Man in a Train from 1911 represents a tremendous breakthrough for Duchamp. 

Nude Descending a Staircase #1 from 1911

It was Nude Descending a Staircase #2 from 1912 that really established Duchamp's career. When it was displayed in the Armory show in New York in 1913 the artist became internationally known.

Fountain, 1917.

L.H.O.O.Q., 1919.

The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even was officially declare unfinished by Duchamp in 1923.

The artist was associated with the Dada movement. Many of the groups publications can be found here.